U.K. Must Clarify Stance on Lethal Force by Drones, Panel Says

  • Inquiry follows killing of Islamic State fighter in Syria
  • Line between war and countering terrorism getting `blurred'

The U.K. government must clarify the legal basis for the use of lethal force by drones, a cross-party panel of lawmakers said.

The Joint Committee on Human Rights began an investigation into the topic following the killing of Reyaad Khan, an Islamic State fighter of British nationality, by a Royal Air Force drone strike in Syria last year. At the time, Prime Minister David Cameron had parliamentary approval to carry out airstrikes against the group in Iraq, but not in Syria. Cameron said it was an act of self-defense as Khan was plotting terrorist attacks in Britain.

The parliamentary committee said it accepted the explanation that the strike was military action taken in the context of a conflict in which Britain was already involved. At the same time, questioning revealed the government was prepared to carry out other such strikes outside of an armed conflict.

“The line between war in the traditional sense and countering the crime of terrorism has been blurred by two developments,” Committee Chairwoman Harriet Harman said Tuesday in an e-mailed statement. “Rapid technological advance, including drone technology, has transformed the nature of the threat from terrorism and the capacity to counter it; and the nature of armed conflict has changed, with the steady rise of non-state armed groups.”

The committee urged the government to clarify its understanding of the legal basis for carrying out strikes outside of an armed conflict. It also called on ministers to outline the legal basis on which it contributes to the use of lethal force by other nations, such as the U.S., outside of wars.

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